GREEN BAY – Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy got a taste of the high life last week.
With their Green Bay Packers teammate and pal, left tackle David Bakhtiari, up for the “athlete of the year” award at the annual Wisconsin Sports Awards at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, the two second-year offensive linemen got to fly down from Green Bay – albeit on a short takeoff-to-touchdown that was barely a half hour – on a private jet and be treated like celebrities.
“Kind of too good to pass up,” Murphy said with a smile.
When the pair got back to Green Bay and returned to the team’s offseason workout program on Monday though, it was back to reality – a reality where they’re not among the team’s five projected starters despite the free-agent departure of Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang in March.
The team’s decision not to re-sign Lang – he went to his hometown Detroit Lions on a three-year, $28.5 million deal ($19 million guaranteed) that blew the Packers’ final offer out of the water – had initially created an opening in the lineup. Among the logical candidates to replace him were Spriggs, who started two games there as a rookie second-round pick last year while Lang was out with a broken foot, and Murphy, a sixth-round pick who played only eight offensive snaps in three games as a rookie. Veteran backup Don Barclay and Lucas Patrick, an undrafted free agent who spent last season on the practice squad, were the other initial options.
Then Packers general manager Ted Thompson did something out of character: He added a veteran free agent, signing 12th-year right guard Jahri Evans, a six-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints, to a one-year, $2.25 million deal just before last month’s NFL Draft.
Evans could be just a one-year stop-gap starter – he’ll turn 34 in August and considered retirement after last season – but the move signaled the team’s discomfort with their existing options, especially after coach Mike McCarthy insisted at the annual NFL Meetings in March that the 6-foot-6, 301-pound Spriggs is a tackle, not a guard.
“We’ll wait and see how it plays out. That’s more so in the hands of the coaches and how they want to play guys, what (they think) their best places are. We’ll just do our best and show our best on the field,” Spriggs said of Evans’ arrival. “I play where I’m told to play. If they want me to play guard, I’ll get better at guard; if they want me to play tackle, I’ll play tackle and keep working there and whenever I get the opportunity to play, I get the opportunity to play.
“They’re going to put the best guys on the field, and I just have to work to be my best and become one of the best guys so I’m on the field.”
That’s the mentality Murphy said he and the rest of the would-be challengers – the Packers also added rookie sixth-round Kofi Amichia to the mix – have to take. Evans has been extremely durable during his career, starting 169 of a possible 176 games during his 11 seasons with the Saints, but his arrival can’t change their approach.
“It’s great to surround yourself with experienced players who have that pedigree and that game experience. He’s won a Super Bowl. And to be able to learn from those guys, to be able to compete with them in drills, workouts, whatever – I don’t see it as a negative at all,” said Murphy, who spent the offseason focusing on adding strength. “I’m still going to take the same approach and attitude that I want to take that job. But he’s a great guy. It’s great to have him in the locker room.”
Added Bakhtiari: “Anytime you can add a veteran into the group, especially when he’s got 11 years (of experience), it’s huge. I’ve even tried to pick his brain about the little things within the game, to learn from a guy. Because you can’t take away 100-plus games he’s played in and started.
“Beyond that, though, we’re a very confident group. I’m very confident in the guys we have in the room. Whoever we have out there, all five, if it is Jahri, we’re going to go out there and play some really good football. I think we should have a really good offensive line for years to come.”